A closer look into statins for the prevention of heart disease

Statins are among the most commonly prescribed medications and help patients suffering from cardiovascular disease. Is the presence of risk factors alone enough to warrant regularly taking statins? Scientific evidence enables us to weigh up the effectiveness and side effects of regularly taking statins.

Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad cholesterol" levels can lead to a narrowing of the blood vessels. High LDL values are caused by a combination of lifestyle factors, including a high-fat diet and sedentary lifestyle. There are two options to reduce the level of bad cholesterol in the blood: lifestyle changes and statins. LDL levels can be lowered by adopting a healthier diet and doing more exercise. When it comes to the use of statins for patients who have not suffered a cardiovascular episode but exhibit certain risk factors, opinions differ wildly.

Researchers have combined the results of several studies comparing the effectiveness of statins with placebos. The studies included participants aged 40 and over suffering from a lipometabolic disorder, an early-stage cerebrovascular disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, and followed them for 3 years. None of the participants had suffered a cardiovascular episode before taking part in the studies.

The study results show that out of 100 patients taking a placebo, 2 had a heart attack and 2 a stroke, while 2 patients died after suffering a cardiovascular episode. Of the patients taking statins for more than 3 years on average, 1 had a heart attack and 1 a stroke, while 1 patient died after suffering a cardiovascular episode.

On the risk side:

The exact same number of people experienced adverse events in both groups. In each group, 13 patients had to be hospitalised for an extended period of time due to a life-threatening episode, developed/were left with/suffered permanent disability or were diagnosed with cancer. As many as 9 in each group experienced muscle pains or weakness (myalgia), and 3 patients in each group were diagnosed as having type-2 diabetes during the course of their treatment.

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